Capitol Updates

CAPITOL UPDATE – August 14, 2020

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2020 Sine Die Legislative Report

The Nebraska Legislature adjourned its 2020 session on Thursday, August 13. It was a productive session despite the four-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Legislature introduced 483 legislative bills and proposed ten new constitutional amendments this year. By the final day, the body approved 141 bills without advancing any constitutional ballot changes. A total of 25 bills were indefinitely postponed, nine bills withdrawn, and 167 bills died for lack of passage, which occurs at the end of the 60-day session.

Moving forward, new laws will become effective on November 13, 2020, three calendar months after adjournment, unless they include a specific operative date or an emergency clause. If so, they become effective the day after they are signed by the Governor. Because this is the second session in the biennium, bills that did not pass will not carry over to the 2021 session. Bills will need to be reintroduced next year to be considered.

Six senators will not return in 2021. The term limited senators are Kate Bolz of Lincoln, Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Sue Crawford of Bellevue, Sara Howard of Omaha, Rick Kolowski of Omaha, and Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk.

State Budget Makes Adjustment to State Aid to Education

LB1008, the Legislature’s adjustment to 2019 biennial budget, was signed by the Governor without any line item veto changes. There was a $319,400 reduction in TEEOSA funding caused by changes in the state aid formula’s calculations. In 2019, the Legislature funded TEEOSA at a 3.6 percent per year average increase, $64.8 million (6.7 percent) in FY2019-20, and an additional $5.7 million (0.6 percent) in FY2020-21. LB1008, changes this FY2020-21 amount to $5.4 million (0.57 percent). Spending for state aid totaled $1.01 billion for FY2020-21. To see the 2020-21 state aid calculation for your school district, click here.

Property Tax Reform and Business Incentive Bill Advanced

By Sine Die, LB1107 the “Grand Compromise” property tax and business incentive package, which includes a refundable income tax credit to cover a portion of school property taxes paid, was passed on final reading and presented to the Governor for likely approval. This large spending proposal developed in the final weeks of the session, provides minimal property tax relief through a massive state income tax credit. In exchange for this minor property tax relief, the state will face a substantial revenue shortfall in coming years!

This new proposal will significantly grow the revenue shortfall projected for the next biennium, essentially guaranteeing future cuts to education and other state priorities. The current shortfall projection for the next biennium is $403 million. The Grand Compromise will add nearly $405 million in new spending over the next three fiscal years without raising matching revenue to cover the loss. The package will bring the anticipated shortfall in the next biennium to a negative $808 million.

LB1107 creates a refundable state income tax credit based upon a percentage of property taxes paid to schools. In year one, based upon a $200,000 residential property, a homeowner will receive a $90 refundable income tax credit. The cost to the state for the first year of this plan will be $125 million. By year five, the plan will require the state to fund a minimum of $375 million in tax credits and provide an additional $150 million in corporate tax credits. The bill also establishes a minimum expenditure of $275 million for the Property Tax Credit Fund.

Additional Caps to School Spending Defeated

Another property tax reform, LB1106 was halted on General File because the proposal’s introducer, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, was unable to cease debate (invoke cloture) on the bill. Earlier this year in March, a similar proposal was defeated for lack of cloture on LB974. These property tax reform proposals would have made permanent changes to how we fund public schools. The bills included a new round of draconian school budget spending lids and limits. The additional spending caps would have led to reduced funding for our K-12 public schools and would have hurt the education of students.

On its own, LB1106 provided a 2% budget cap lid. In contrast, LB974 had even harsher spending caps limiting school budget growth to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI growth figure could have been as low as zero percent. The CPI is based on the goods a family purchases, not on what it takes to run a school district. Using the CPI to determine school funding would have created severe problems further limiting local school districts in their work to provide students with a quality education.

Both proposals would have eliminated the “averaging adjustment” funding in the TEEOSA formula that benefits students in the state’s largest schools. Elimination of the adjustment would have made school districts far more reliant on state aid, which would have caused them to be even more vulnerable to future state aid cuts.

Major Employment Benefit for Teachers Injured Becomes a State Law

One bright spot of the 2020 Session includes LB1186, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers at the request of the NSEA. The bill was later prioritized by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht in order to receive floor debate. Without any objection from senators, the bill advanced through Final Reading and was later signed into law by Governor Ricketts. The proposal helps address the growing issue of teachers being physically assaulted.

LB1186 grants up to seven days of injury leave per occurrence if a teacher or other school employee is assaulted while on the job. In most school districts, if a teacher is assaulted and requires leave from work to recover, they must use their own sick leave days. Under LB1186, additional injury leave will be granted to accommodate recovery time, without a school employee having to use their already limited sick leave days. The employee will receive injury leave and be paid their usual salary, in full, for such time as the employee is absent and unable to work as a result of such injury.

If additional leave is required beyond the seven days, existing provisions of the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act will apply. The injured school employee will be entitled to utilize workers' compensation benefits and leave in accordance with the Act. A school district may require confirmation from a physician regarding the causation and the period of time for which an employee is unable to work in determining the applicability of injury leave. The new law will go into effect on November 13, 2020.

School Safety Proposal and Related Bills Fail to Advance

A proposal that would have promoted safe learning and teaching environments in schools and classrooms across Nebraska, LB147, was filibustered and failed to advance. A cloture vote was taken Thursday, July 30, on MO203 to end debate. The motion received 32 of the 33 votes required to cease debate and break the filibuster. Seventeen senators acted to block the measure. Had debate ended, the bill then only needed 25 votes to advance to Select File. To see how your senator voted on MO203, please click here.

The bill would have required school districts to maintain a publicly available policy on how and when a student can be removed from and returned to a classroom, including a discipline process that was proactive, instructive and restorative, along with provisions for instructional and/or behavioral interventions for that student. Also, it would have protected school personnel from administrative retribution if a school employee used reasonable physical intervention to safely manage the behavior of a student and to protect the student, other students, and/or staff from physical injury.

Because LB147 failed to advance, LB920 and LB998 were held up from advancing as well. Ending up on Select File, LB920 would have determined how education lottery funds would be allocated beginning in 2021. The bill would have provided grant funding to future teachers for Praxis subject matter exams, and grant funding to current teachers seeking National Board Certification. LB920 also contained the statutory mechanism necessary to fund behavioral awareness and intervention training in LB998.

LB998, a bill introduced to address concerns raised by LB147 opponents, would have given each school district the opportunity to provide basic training for all school employees with distributed money from the lottery. Behavioral awareness training would have been required for administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, school nurses, and counselors. The language for the training was created by consulting the NSEA, experts from the training community, administrators, school boards, ESU’s, and a number of other individuals.

Senators Act to Improve Learning at the Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Centers

The Legislature advanced and the Governor signed a series of bills aimed at addressing long-running problems at the state's Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC). The NSEA supported these bills and believes they are a step in the right direction to ensure learning conditions for students and working conditions for teachers in these facilities continue to improve. Teachers at the YRTCs are NSEA members.

All four omnibus bills governing the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers advanced this session: LB1140, LB1144, LB1148, and LB1188. The package grew out the Health and Human Services Committee’s six-month investigation into problems at the institutions, especially what led up to the August crisis at Geneva. One of the bills, LB1188 mandates the Office of Juvenile Services establish a superintendent of schools to administer education programs at the YRTCs by Aug. 1. Another bill LB1140, delays any changes to transferring students from the Geneva facility until March 30, 2021.

The need for these legislative changes is clear. With the limited and inadequate space, the number of incidents of aggressive behavior toward students and staff has increased. Safety has been compromised. Students are at risk and staff are at risk. Educators working within the facility believe the need for separation of male and female students is both crucial and urgent. The new laws will help address these important concerns.

Final Review of Education and School Finance Bills

Now that the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, bills that did not become laws will not carry over to the 2021 Legislative Session. Because this is the second session in the biennium, those non-advancing bills will be indefinitely postponed. These proposals will need to be reintroduced next year to be considered.

APPROVED BY GOVERNOR

LB751 (Blood) Provide for a mental health exception to compulsory education requirements

LB880 (Groene) Change dates related to certifications and distributions of state aid to schools

LB881 (Hansen, M.) Change provisions relating to criminal and civil procedure

LB1008 (Scheer) Provide, change, and eliminate provisions relating to appropriations

LB1080 (Lathrop) Require school policies that prohibit sexual conduct with students and former students

LB1186 (Hilgers) Require salary to be paid to injured school employees as prescribed

PRESENTED TO GOVERNOR FOR APPROVAL (as of August 13)

LB515 (Vargas) Change provisions relating to the Student Discipline Act

LB534 (Cavanaugh) Require public postsecondary educ. institutions to conduct sexual assault survey

LB965 (McDonnell) Establish a language assessment program for children who are deaf

LB1089 (Vargas) Require students to complete the FAFSA prior to graduation from high school

LB1107 (Scheer) Adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, and Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act

LB1166 (Brewer) Change school district membership requirements as prescribed

SELECT FILE (Indefinitely Postponed)

LB183 (Briese) Change the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land for purposes of taxes

LB720 (Kolterman) Adopt the ImagiNE Nebraska Act and provide tax incentives (added to LB1107)

LB920 (Groene) Change provisions for the distribution of lottery funds used for education

LB1131 (Groene) Change provisions relating to education

GENERAL FILE (Indefinitely Postponed)

LB147 (Groene) Change Student Discipline Act to provide physical intervention or removal for behavior

LB289 (Linehan) Change provisions relating to taxation of real property

LB483 (Erdman) Change the valuation of agricultural land and horticultural land

LB563 (Bolz) Adopt the Access College Early Tech Promise Program Act

LB670 (Linehan) Adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act and provide tax credits

LB974 (Revenue Cmmt) Change taxation and school funding provisions

LB998 (Murman) Require behavioral awareness and intervention training and points of contact

LB1001 (Crawford) Require suicide prevention phone numbers on student identification cards

LB1048 (Quick) Create the offense of sexual assault by a school employee (added to LB881)

LB1083 (Morfeld) Change provisions relating to the Meadowlark Program

LB1106 (Scheer) Eliminate obsolete sales tax provisions

IN COMMITTEE (Indefinitely Postponed)

LB839 (Wishart) Recognize American Sign Language and provide for the teaching in schools

LB894 (Stinner) Appropriate funds for community college aid

LB950 (Murman) Change eligibility requirements for the Access College Early Scholarship Program

LB967 (DeBoer) Change provisions regarding bullying prevention and education

LB1023 (DeBoer) Adopt the Extraordinary Increase in Special Education Cost Act

LB1039 (Cavanaugh) Adopt the Hunger-Free Schools Act

LB1066 (Erdman) Change provisions for modifying school district boundaries

LB1073 (DeBoer) Create the School Financing Review Commission, add basic funding aid, etc.

LB1076 (Bolz) Change provisions relating to the Community College Gap Assistance Program Act

LB1111 (McDonnell) Grant program for private donations and school funds to common schools

LB1134 (Wayne) Change enrollment option limits and provisions for part-time enrollment in schools

LB1141 (HHS Cmmt) Require the DHHS to develop operations plans for the YRTC’s

LB1151 (Vargas) Redefine eligible student and prioritize awards for Nebraska Opportunity Grant Act

LB1153 (Vargas) Change provisions for diploma of high school equivalency testing

LB1156 (Vargas) Provide for a statewide school panic button program

LB1168 (Kolowski) College Credit Testing Fee Reduction Program Act and Career-Readiness

LB1177 (Hunt) Eliminate oath for teachers and other school employees

LB1202 (Linehan) Adopt the Opportunity Scholarships Act and provide for tax credits

LB1206 (Vargas) Require reporting to the Nebraska Early Childhood Professional Record System

LB1210 (Vargas) Create the offense of sexual exploitation of a student

LB1217 (Wayne) Require response plans following a report of incidents involving students

Vote Early and Engage in Political Action

Nebraska's General Election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Because of the continued impact of COVID-19, we encourage you to make sure you are registered to vote by October 16, and we urge you to make sure you request a mail-in ballot before the October 23 request deadline. Register to vote by clicking here.

There are several opportunities for you to make a difference for candidates who support children and public education:

  • You will be mailed an early-voting form soon but you can also get an application to vote by mail here.
  • Your help is needed to make phone calls or write postcards for our NSEA recommended candidates! Please contact NSEA Director of Political Action, Brian Mikkelsen at brian.mikkelsen@nsea.org or at (402) 432-3397 if you are willing to help in this important effort.